No. 7 Pitt volleyball sweeps weekend, extends winning streak to 17


Pamela Smith | Visual Editor

Pitt sophomore setter Rachel Fairbanks (10) sets the ball at a game against Bowling Green State University at the Fitzgerald Field House in September.

By Richie Smiechowski, Assistant Sports Editor

Pitt volleyball head coach Dan Fisher added yet another feather to his already decorated cap this weekend, recording career win numbers 250 and 251 against Syracuse and Boston College. Fisher became the fastest coach to reach 250 wins in program history.

Despite his milestone, the story of the weekend lay with the team’s accomplishments, as the pair of victories extended the No. 7 Panthers (24-2, 14-0 ACC) active win streak to 17 games. They’re the only Power 5 team in the NCAA still undefeated in conference play.

The Panthers started off their weekend on the road against Syracuse (11-13,7-7 ACC) and quickly found themselves in a back-and-forth affair. There was nothing separating the two sides early, drawn even for most of the first few points. Down 6-5, the Panthers finally found some breathing room thanks to a 6-1 run behind two kills from sophomore setter Rachel Fairbanks.

Pitt maintained a four-point lead until 13-9 before the Orange began to claw back. Three kills from senior outside hitter Viktoriia Lokhmanchuk spearheaded a 6-2 run for Syracuse, drawing the match back to level terms at 15-all.

Despite tying the match, three errors in five points set back the Orange once again falling behind by three late in the set. At 21-18, Syracuse again strung together three points in a row, tying the Panthers at 21-21.

Tied at 23 just a few points later, Pitt forced a set point on a kill by senior middle blocker Chiamaka Nwokolo. An attack error from Syracuse on the next point gave Pitt the hard-earned first-set win, 25-23. Both teams hit over .250 for the set and limited errors, but timely points from the Panthers ended up being the difference maker.

Once again, the second set started without either team finding an advantage. Both sides hit well, defended well and refused to let the opposing side pull away. The Panthers eventually found momentum, going on a three-point run but it was quickly followed up by the Orange, who went on a 5-2 run of their own, extending their lead to 14-12.

Down 15-14, the Panthers finally hit their stride, ripping off an 8-1 run behind an ace from sophomore outside hitter Julianna Dalton and two kills from Fairbanks. Pitt’s onslaught put them up a decisive six points late in the second frame and they didn’t look back, winning the set 25-18. This time the Panthers dominated offensively, hitting .429 with just one attack error.

In the third set, Pitt managed to jump in front early for the first time all day. A three- and four-point swing gave them a comfy six-point advantage, but the Orange wouldn’t go quietly, stringing together four points of their own and reducing the deficit to 11-9.

From there, the two sides went back and forth again, trading runs evenly with the Panthers maintaining a slight edge. Up 17-15, Pitt went on a decisive four-point swing, going up 21-15. Syracuse went on a three-point run of their own, but it was too little too late, and the Panthers closed the match out, sweeping the Orange with a 25-19 third-set victory.

Graduate student right-side hitter Courtney Buzzerio once again led the way for the Panthers with a game-high 14 kills. Fairbanks ended with a monstrous 11 kill, 16 assist and three block performance, coming up four digs shy of a triple-double.

The Panthers continued their road trip on Sunday, taking on Boston College (17-11, 5-9 ACC). The Panthers started off incredibly strong, taking nine of the game’s first 11 points. The Eagles were wildly inconsistent, committing four attack errors in that stretch.

Despite starting off on the back foot, the Eagles suddenly hit their stride, going on a 7-1 run immediately after and drawing the score back to 10-9 thanks to three aces. They would eventually take a 14-13 lead, stunning the Panthers.

Down 16-15, Pitt turned the burners back on and fired off a six-point run on two BC attack errors and four kills from four separate players. Yet they couldn’t maintain the momentum and the Eagles fired back with a streak of their own, going on an 8-2 run and forcing the frame’s first set point.

One point away from a first-frame defeat at 24-23, the Panthers benefited from a crucial BC service error, followed by an attack error, giving Pitt a set point. Junior outside hitter Valeria Vazquez Gomez finished the job for the Panthers, recording her fifth kill of the hectic first frame and giving Pitt the 26-24 victory.

Pitt once again started off strong, this time leading 10-2 on a devastating nine-kill start from the attack. The Eagles had no response for Pitt this time, never coming within less than seven points of their opponent. The Panthers’ remarkable 15-kill, .433-hitting percentage performance gave them the easy 25-11 second set victory.

Much to the Panthers’ surprise, BC flipped the script in the third and jumped out to an early 4-2 advantage. The Panthers still displayed their dominance, rifling off a five-point run, but the Eagles refused to go quietly, scoring four consecutive points of their own and leading 10-9.

Soon after, BC extended its lead to 14-11 and never relinquished the lead. The Panthers got within two at 20-18, but the Eagles finished emphatically, finishing the frame on a five-point run and winning 25-18.

Despite the setback, the Panthers resumed their dominance in the fourth set, slowly building their lead before unleashing a five-point run on their opponent, bringing the score to 12-6. From there, the Panthers refused to let the Eagles ever get close again, continually bolstering their advantage and eventually winning the anticlimactic fourth set by a comfortable 25-15.

Four Panthers recorded kills in the double digits, with Dalton having one of her best games of the season, notching 12 kills and five blocks. Fairbanks recorded yet another double-double with 27 assists and 10 digs in the victory.

The Panthers look to extend their winning streak to 18 games on Friday, Nov. 11, against Syracuse at home. The game will be streamed on ACCNX.